By: Sam Dounis
A year ago I had coffee with one of my best friends and confessed that I was having an existential crisis. I lamented that I could find no meaning in my work, or purpose in my life. A tad melodramatic perhaps, but every time I opened Facebook, or Twitter, or LinkedIn, I was confronted with people talking about how it was their ‘one purpose in life’ to help people do X, and how great their lives were now that they’d discovered their ‘life purpose’. They were oh-so-sorted, had massive followings, and were earning oodles and oodles of money, now that they’d discovered ‘the one thing they’d been put on this Earth to do’.
My friend, a straight talking Aussie, brought me back to earth the moment he correctly identified the main reason for my crisis: I’d been shutting myself away in my home office, when what I really needed was to get out and about, and surround myself with people! I felt instantly better about myself, and my work, when I followed his advice, but the question of ‘purpose’ continued to bother me.
After a lot of thought, analysis, and angst that I was somehow a robot with no reason for being here, I came to the conclusion that Purpose, as in ‘you must find your life’s purpose’ is a red herring. A ruse to keep you exactly where you are, or drive your life backwards in despair, as what seems like everyone else around you, makes great strides forward and lives the life you once thought would be yours. I came to the conclusion, that while there may well be people who feel that they have one almighty reason for being here on Earth, I’m not one of them. I know instead that I have great talents, and that because I have a unique combination of skills, knowledge, expertise, and experience, I can use those talents in ways that others can’t, or at least not as easily as I do.
But I don’t feel compelled to serve a particular group of people, or change the world in a particular way. There are a few groups of people that it makes sense for me to serve, because I understand them and the challenges they face. But I don’t see it as my ‘life’s purpose’. But that doesn’t mean my life has no purpose. What I’ve realized, is that living my life ‘on purpose’, is what gives my life meaning. By being purposeful in almost everything I do, I can feel that I’m moving forward in life, and that my life matters. That it matters to me.
When I look back on my life so far, the times when I’ve been happiest have been the times when I lived on purpose: when the actions I took fitted into a bigger picture, and moved me forward in life. Even when I was doing a job that I wasn’t suited to, that I didn’t love. My actions still had meaning. And the times when I’ve felt myself flailing, when I’ve been the least happy, have been when I’ve been living without a bigger picture to serve. These are the times that I’ve struggled to find purpose and meaning. What I realize, is that these times have occurred most frequently, not when I was in a job I didn’t enjoy, or a job that didn’t stretch me. They’ve occurred most often since I left my corporate job, and entered into the world of entrepreneurial freedom.
This realization came as a massive surprise to me, and helped me to realize what I needed in order to live my life on purpose: a vision, something to aim for, a bigger picture than the one I was in. When I became an entrepreneur, I was looking for freedom: what I got was the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose what purpose looks like, freedom to mold my life the way I want. At first that felt overwhelming; especially because I’d spent so long working in a place where other people decided what my working day looked like, who I spent it with, and what I was working towards. At times, entrepreneurial freedom can feel like a curse, because it’s all down to you: you have to take full responsibility for all of your life and how it works out. But once you accept that, once you get on board with complete personal responsibility, that freedom becomes a gift, a blessing to be embraced.
You get to choose what that bigger picture looks like, to decide what actions will propel you forward, and help you live on purpose. I started with what I wanted in my life, what dreams I wanted to fulfill, personally and with my family. And then I looked at how my business could help me get there: I decided who I wanted to serve, and how I wanted to serve them, while making the most of my talents, and doing what I love to do.
So now I make sure that whatever I do is working towards that bigger picture of how I want my life to look. Whether that’s spending time with my husband and the cutest fluff-ball of a dog ever to scamper across this earth; or writing; or helping business owners tell their stories to the world. When I’m living on purpose, when my actions take me closer to the truth of how I want to live my life, I feel that my life has clarity and lightness. I have a feeling of moving in the right direction, at the right speed for now. I feel that my life has meaning, and to me, that is all the purpose I need.
What does living life on purpose mean to you?
What gives meaning to your life?